NJ mayor won’t allow DPW to help state shutter defiant diner
LACEY — The owner of the Lakeside Diner has the support of the mayor and township administrator, who declined a prosecutor's request to have the municipal Department of Public Works shutter the diner.
The eatery in the Forked River section has continued to serve customers indoors despite numerous criminal citations and a closure order delivered to owner Brian Brindisi, who has been in business for 27 years.
Mayor Steven Kennis said Monday on Twitter that he had declined a request for the Department of Public Works to help board up the business.
On Friday, the Ocean County Sheriff's Office carried out a judge's orders to change the diner's door locks, which Brindisi promptly changed back and reopened for the weekend. Sheriff Michael Mastronardy, an elected Republican, later expressed regret for enforcing the law.
An executive order issued by Gov. Phil Murphy prohibiting indoor dining at restaurants remains in effect.
Attorney James Mermigas told New Jersey 101.5 that police served Brindisi his 13th summons for violating the executive order along with a contempt of court order at his home at 11:45 p.m. Monday.
Business Administrator Veronica Laureigh told New Jersey 101.5 that she was contacted by the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office with a request to board up the diner.
"This comes down from the state to the local prosecutor's office, who then in turn calls the local authorities to ask for assistance," Laureigh said.
"When I got the phone call from a lieutenant in the police department to say we got this phone call, I said, 'No, we're not doing that,'" she said. "I did check with the mayor and the mayor's like, 'No way are we doing that.'"
She said that the township's governing body supports small businesses.
"We feel that things can be done with safety precautions throughout the whole state. You can to stand in line at Walmart. You can go and protest. You can go to all these gatherings outside and you can't stand in line to vote anymore," Laureigh said. "They want the economy open and running. Small-business America is what makes us run."
Laureigh said she recently attended a funeral in North Carolina for someone who died because of COVID-19.
"It's very real. But if I were one of those people freaked out about it I'd have to make my own provisions to take care of myself. If someone doesn't want to participate, they don't have to," she said.
Mermigas said that Brindisi will not back down and plans on continuing to offer indoor dining.
"They're physically going to have to pull him out of that restaurant," Mermigas said, adding that Brindisi plans to file a lawsuit claiming the state is violating his constitutional rights.
Mermigas said it's a "disgrace" that Murphy has not had solid answers for when indoor dining would resume in New Jersey.
Murphy during Monday' coronavirus briefing said that he hopes to have news on "indoor stuff" soon but wouldn't commit to a timeframe.
"I’m not going to marry myself to a date yet but the data is unquestionably good of late," Murphy said.
When Murphy was again asked Monday to spell out what he was looking for to allow indoor dining or gyms to reopen, he replied: “A sustained period of good data including rate of transmission ... so this is not just one day or any couple of days.”
On the question of whether New Jersey is coordinating with neighboring states, where indoor dining and gyms have reopened, Murphy said New Jersey is in "harmony" with neighbors but not "in lock-step."
On Sunday, a spokesman for the Attorney General's Office said state officials also "regret" having to enforce court orders but the state remains "in the midst of a global pandemic."
"If we’re going to prevent a second wave of COVID-19 in New Jersey, we need everyone in this state – including diner and restaurant owners – to do their part and follow the law," the spokesman said.